Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Military Order of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and Saint Lazarus

Among the Military Orders of the Middle ages was the Order of Saint Lazarus, founded specifically for the care of lepers. Here is an historical account:

Five major orders were formed in the Holy Land in the late 11th-early 12th century: the Knights Templar, Knights Hospitaller (St. John), Knights of the Holy Sepulchre, Knights of the Hospital of St. Mary of Jerusalem (Teutonic Knights) and Knights of Saint Lazarus. Templar knights who contracted leprosy were sent to the care of the Order of Saint Lazarus. These knights trained the brethren of Saint Lazarus in the military arts and were responsible for transforming the Order into a military one.

As leprosy disappeared from Europe, the order of St. Lazarus became more of a spiritual brotherhood, under the protection of the French monarchy. When Henry IV embraced Catholicism, he united the Order of Saint Lazarus to a new lay confraternity, the Military Order of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, in 1608. As the same account explains:

In theory the Order was military, but with the exception of a brief period in the XVIIth century when it manned ten naval frigates it played no military role after it left the Holy Land. It was composed of diplomats, high-level civil servants and members of the titled nobility and was limited to 100 knights. The King was the sovereign head and protector and chose the Grand Master....

During the French Revolution a decree of 30 July 1791 suppressed all royal and knightly orders. Another decree the following year confiscated all the Order's properties (the Château de Boigny, the Military Academy, the commanderies and hospitals). Louis, Count of Provence, Grand Master of the Order, who later became Louis XVIII, continued to function in exile and awarded the Order, though sparingly.

I read somewhere that Louis XVI, who had joined the order as a boy, took his obligations as a lay military "Carmelite" very seriously, and he daily prayed the Office and attended regular meetings. As for Louis XVIII, he mostly enjoyed pomp and liked handing out medals. As Heraldica says:

Provence seemed interested in the Order as a source of favors to hand out. In 1785 he suggested to the king that the Order was really a "mark of nobility, the insignia of a sort of noble association and not a courtly reward." He wanted to capitalize on the recent surge of prestige to turn it into a rival of the Order of Malta: at least, he argued, Saint-Lazare does not require celibacy, and its head and sovereign protector was the king himself, not some foreign entity. It would also serve as a source of retirement income for officers, and thereby relieve the Royal Treasury. Provence's apparent altruism should not deceive: he wanted to turn the Order into his private Saint-Esprit or Golden Fleece, and use it as a source of extra revenues for his uncontrollable spending habits (the Royal Treasury had to bail him out of several millions' worth of debts in the mid-1780s, at taxpayer expense). Not surprisingly, his brother the king was not receptive. Besides, the order was losing money as it was. In 1788, the king and Provence decided to let the order disappear by ceasing to appoint knights (see Petiet 1914). Accordingly, the last promotion was in 1788.

The Revolution came, the Comte de Provence fled the country in June 1791; the order was abolished along with other orders on July 31, 1791, by a decree of the National Assembly signed by the king, and the estates confiscated and sold....

The Bourbons returned to France in 1814, and Louis XVIII, while preserving Napoleon's Legion of Honor, proceeded to recreate the Old Regime's orders. The Order of Saint-Esprit was recreated on September 28, 1814 and promotions made during exile were validated; the order of Saint-Louis and the Mérite Militaire (the Protestant version) were likewise recreated on Dec. 12, 1814 and even Saint-Michel was restored on November 16, 1816. But nothing was done to reinstate Saint Lazare. Louis XVIII kept wearing the star of the Order (and was buried with it) but otherwise showed no interest whatsoever in the order. It is true that the order had lost its estates, and had therefore no income whatsoever. Caring for the order would have meant allocating funds, as had been done for the other orders. But Saint-Lazare had been a very minor order, and clearly Louis XVIII saw no need for it anymore.

The Order of Saint Lazarus was revived in 1910, without the connection to Our Lady of Mount Carmel, however. Some dispute the legitimacy of the resurrected Order, which has experienced schism and interior division in the last century. The new "Lazarists," however, still accomplish a great deal of charitable works, as one article explains:

Nonetheless, the members of this Order have been effective fund raisers for significant humanitarian causes. They have obtained substantial donations from their own membership as well as successfully acquiring large grants from the European Union and the German government which have been put to good use in Eastern Europe. Leading members of the Lazarus Hilfswerk, the German charitable arm of Saint Lazarus which has been the primary instrument in obtaining government and E.U. funding, have been received by Pope John Paul II in private audience when His Holiness thanked them for the extensive Polish relief operations. It has several times been claimed on their behalf that His Holiness was preparing to recognize their institution as an Order, but to this date such acknowledgment has not materialized.



Anonymous said...

Keep this kinda historical info coming: it is relevant.

Thank you

from Texas

Linda said...

Leprosy is one disease that was eradicated in Europe (or greatly reduced) although there was no known cure at the time that the disease was greatly diminished. The reason is the work of Order of Lazarus and also a general lessening in crowded housing.

Anonymous said...

Fascinating information--all new stuff for me. Which is what I love about this blog!

elena maria vidal said...

Thanks, everybody! That is fascinating how leprosy disappeared just through common sense and care.